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  • The weekend went by quickly, thankfully – without anything to study, Hank got to do all the things he hadn’t done in ages. He’d gotten into so much trouble on his ship that he’d spent the last couple months there hunkered down, just trying to keep his nose out of trouble and hoping to God he hadn’t blown his shot at getting off that ship to come to school. He’d had his nose buried in the books for the past month, trying to compensate for his complete lack of aptitude in physics, according to the entry exams.

    Now, his head was swimming in physics – he’d completely immersed himself into it, and was now actually seeing the world in a whole different light. He actually kind of liked it - there was a solidness and clarity to the laws of physics that he’d never even contemplated before. It made a lot of things make a lot of sense. It was clean. But, he needed a break from all of that, now. Joe was always up for some partying, and it was time to cut it loose and blow off some steam with his buddy.

    Hank and Joe took off for Baltimore, first. This was years before the Inner Harbor got built up – they found a strip near the harbor with several jumping rock and roll clubs, featuring live bands, dancing, lots of women, and general good times and mayhem. It was just like old times with him and Joe – they’d done a lot of hard partying together, and Joe was glad to have his old pal back in the saddle, at least for the weekend.

    That night, Hank just wanted to lose himself to the night. He cut loose and got wasted, right off the bat. It wasn’t long before he was in an alcoholic black out, and heard about the rest of the wild night the next day, back on the base. That was par for the course when he drank fast and furious, like he did that night. Joe filled him in on all the ugly details.
  • They spent Saturday driving around through Amish country, getting wasted and scoring some great Amish food, then they hit the cliffs and went cliff-diving up river into the Susquehanna with a bunch of other folks. They were the best cliffs ever, with natural platforms at various heights, ten feet, twenty feet, and so on, all the way up to the top level, around sixty feet down to the river. Joe put Hank up to diving off the highest one, and Hank, never one to back down from a dare, did it, just because. Of course, he landed badly and had marks to prove it, but he didn’t care – he was having a blast!

    It had been awhile. The best part of it all - he wasn’t thinking about his test results, and whether he’d be coming or going, come Monday. It was still there, the big, life-changing question, looming over everything like a big question mark, but if he was going to go down, he was going to do it in style. Party hearty!

    Saturday night, they drove to Newark, Delaware, to the Stone Baloon rock club, famous for great live music and hot women, and that night was no exception. Another wild night, this time Hank went easier on the booze, while Joe got totally blitzed. They wound up getting into a fight with some smartassed college punks on their way out of the club. It wouldn’t be the first fight they’d found themselves in the middle of, and as was the norm, they held their own, and then some, despite being outnumbered.

    Somehow, since they were sailors, not students, they wound up in the back of the police cruiser when the cops came to break the scuffle up, and Joe was in rare form. When he heard one of the cops say into the radio, “Oh, no big deal, just a couple of land-locked swabbies in a dust-up with some college kids”, he went off, saying, “Hey, man, we didn’t call you guys pigs, don’t call us swabbies!” Hank cringed, but did his best to clean things up with the cops, and they let them go, with a promise they would steer clear of Newark in the future, out of their sight and out of trouble. It wouldn’t be the first time Hank was banned from a college town!

    Sunday, a bunch of guys got a pickup softball game going outside the barracks, and they played ball all afternoon – perfect! Softball was what saved Hank’s ass on his ship. Just when things were as bad as they could get, there, and he’d alienated himself from everyone, they’d started up a team, he’d gone out, and proven to be one of their better players. They began to accept him after that, as the baseball diamond gave them a common ground, and everyone forgot about Hank’s arrogance early on, the fact that he was a damned yankee (they were all good ol’ boys from Dixie), and they could see that he played his heart out, and was good, to boot.

    The same dynamic began to take shape, now. He’d been such a bookworm, everyone had him pegged as a complete nerd, but on the diamond, a whole other image emerged. He and one other guy were clearly the power hitters of the crew, and he wouldn’t hesitate to dive after a ball, and made some good plays.
  • As far as Hank was concerned, it made the time go by, and that’s all he needed. He was singularly focused on finding out whether he’d made the grade, passed the physics exam, and would be either staying on, or going back to his ship. He’d already begun preparing himself for the worst. It wouldn’t be all that bad. Things had started getting better that last month or so. But, he still dreaded the thought of it, and just kept praying, to whatever might be interested in listening, that he’d passed the test, and could stay on for the entire six month school, and the six month program that followed the school, at some other base.

    Finally, Monday rolled around, and classes started up again. It seemed like the day dragged on forever, though there were new and fascinating subjects they got introduced to – metallurgy, reactor principles, nuclear theory, starting to get into the real meat of the program, now that they’d covered the basics of physics and math. But, Hank was distracted all day– all he could think about was those test results. Finally, at the end of the school day, he joined the crowd of sailors swarming around the board in the main hallway of the school, where results were finally posted. He didn’t even bother looking at the math test results, as he knew he did well in them. He made a beeline for the Physics list.

    He started at the bottom and worked his way up the list. Good! Unless there was a mistake, he had to be above the cut line, as he didn’t see his name below it. His eyes kept scanning up the list of 300 names, his heart beating faster as he still didn’t see his name, anywhere – did I do so bad, they didn’t even post my score? Shit! I thought I was beginning to get this stuff. But, then, at the very top, beside the number “100” in the percent result column, were three names – only three sailors out of 300 had aced the physics exam. Hank was one of them. Holy shit!

    There was also a list of overall ranking among the students, for the combined results of all the tests, and his name sat at the very top of the overall ranking, as well.

    He had never been at the top of any academic list before in his life. He floated out of the building, secure in the knowledge that he wasn’t going anywhere, but back to the books. Now that he’d gotten to the top of the class - he planned to stay there.
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    Photo Credits: Dustin Scarpitti and Jeff Sheldon - Unsplash.com; Pete Bridgeman
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